Posts Tagged ‘George Bernard Shaw’

Regenerating the High Street through National Workshops

January 7, 2019

Last week Tweezer announced her plan to revitalize Britain’s failing high streets. Many of our shops are closing as customers and retailers move onto the internet. City centres are being hit hard as shop fronts are left vacant, inviting further vandalism, and further economic decline as shoppers are put off by empty stores and smashed shop windows. In America, it’s been forecast that half of the country’s malls are due to close in the next few years. Tweezer announced that she was going to try reverse this trend in Britain by allocating government money to local authorities, for which they would have to bid.

I’m suspicious of this scheme, partly because of the way it’s being managed. In my experience, the Conservatives’ policy of forcing local authorities to bid for needed funding is simply another way of stopping some places from getting the money they need under the guise of business practice or democracy or however they want to present it. It’s the same way Thatcher would always delay the date when she’d give local authorities they funding they needed for the next year. It’s a way of disguising the fact that they’re making cuts, or simply not giving the money that’s really needed.

As for how local authorities could regenerate their town centres, I wonder if it could be done through a form of the national workshops suggested by the 19th century French socialist, Louis Blanc. During the Revolution of 1848, Blanc proposed a scheme to provide jobs for France’s unemployed by setting up a series of state-owned workshops. These would be run as co-operatives. The workers would share the profits, a certain proportion of which would be set aside to purchase other businesses. This would eventually lead to the socialization of French industry.

Needless to say, the scheme failed through official hostility. The scheme was adopted, by the state undermined it through giving the unemployed on it pointless and demeaning jobs to do. Like digging ditches for no particular reason. It thus petered out as unemployed workers did their best to avoid the scheme. There’s a kind of parallel there to the way the Conservatives and New Labour tried to stop people going on Jobseeker’s Allowance by making it as degrading and unpleasant as possible, and by the workfare industry. This last provides absolutely no benefit whatsoever to workers on it, but gives cheap labour to the firms participating in the scheme, like the big supermarkets.

The national workshops, on the other hand, were at least intended to provide work and empower France’s working people.

In his Fabian Essay, ‘The Transition to Social Democracy’, George Bernard Shaw suggested that Britain could painlessly become a truly socialized economy and society through the gradual extension of municipalization. Town councils would gradually take over more and more parts of the local economy and industry. He pointed to the way the local authorities were already providing lighting, hospitals and other services.

I therefore wonder if it would be better to try to create new businesses in Britain’s town centres by renting the empty shops to groups of workers to run them as cooperatives. They’d share the profits, part of which would be put aside to buy up more businesses, which would also be turned into co-ops.
Already local businesses in many cities have benefited by some radical socialist ideas. In this case, it’s the local currencies, which are based on the number of hours of labour required to produce an article or provide a service, an idea that goes all the way back to anarchist thinkers like Proudhon and Lysander Spooner in the 19th century. These schemes serve to put money back into the local community and businesses.

I realise that this is actually extremely utopian. Local governments are perfectly willing to provide some funding to local co-ops, if they provide an important service. I’ve heard that in Bristol there’s a co-op in Stokes Croft that has been funded by the council because it employs former convicts and drug addicts. However, you can imagine the Tories’ sheer rage, and that of private business and the right-wing press, if a local council tried to put a system of locally owned co-operatives into practice. It would be attacked as ‘loony left’ madness and a threat to proper, privately owned business and jobs.

But it could be what is needed, if only partly, to regenerate our streets: by creating businesses that create jobs and genuinely empower their workers and provide services uniquely tailored to their communities.

The Spanish Civil War and the Real Origins of Orwell’s Anti-Communism

January 2, 2019

Orwell’s 1984 is one of the very greatest classic dystopian novels depicting a bleak future in which the state has nearly absolute, total control. It’s particularly impressed Russians and others, who lived through and criticized Stalinism. Some of these have expressed amazement at how Orwell could have written the book without actually experiencing the horrific reality of Stalin’s USSR for himself. After the War, Orwell became a snitch for MI5 providing the agency with information on the suspected Communists. It’s a sordid part of his brilliant career as an anti-imperialist, socialist writer and activist. Conservatives have naturally seized on Orwell’s 1984, and the earlier satire, Animal Farm, to argue that the great writer had become so profoundly disillusioned that he had abandoned socialism altogether to become a fierce critic of it.

This is unlikely, as the previous year Orwell had written The Lion and the Unicorn, subtitled Socialism and the English. This examined English identity, and argued that for socialism to win in England, it had to adapt to British traditions and the English national character. But it didn’t reject socialism. Instead, it looked forward to a socialist victory and a socialist revolution, but one that would be so in keeping with English nationhood that some would wonder if there had been a revolution at all. He believed this would come about through the increasing blurring of class lines, and pointed to the emergence of a class of people occupying suburban council housing, who could not be easily defined as either working or middle class.

This view of the necessity of developing of a particularly British, English variety of socialism was one of the fundamental assumptions of the Fabians. They said in the History of the society that

‘Fabian Essays’ presented the case for Socialism in plain language which everybody could understand. It based Socialism, not on the speculations of a German philosopher, but on the obvious evolution of society as we see it around us. It accepted economic science as taught by the accredited British professors; it built up the edifice of Socialism on the foundations of our existing political and social institutions; it proved that Socialism was but the next step in the development of society, rendered inevitable by the changes which followed from the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century.

In Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought, Vol. 3, Hegel to Dewey (London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959) 309.

George Bernard Shaw, in his paper ‘The Transition to Social Democracy’, also stressed that the movement towards socialism was a proper part of general developments in British society. He wrote of the Fabian programme

There is not one new item in it. All are applications of principles already in full activity. All have on them that stamp of the vestry which is so congenial to the British mind. None of them compel the use of the words Socialism or Evolution; at no point do they involve guillotining, declaring the Rights of Man, swearing on the alter of the country, or anything else that is supposed to be essentially un-English. And they are all sure to come – landmarks on our course already visible to far-sighted politicians even of the party that dreads them.

Lancaster, op. cit., p. 316.

Shaw was right, and continues to be right. Thatcher wanted to privatise everything because she was afraid of the ‘ratcheting down’ of increasing nationalization, and believed this would result in the gradual emergence of a completely socialized British economy. And the fact that so much British socialism was based on British rather than continental traditions may also explain why Conservatives spend so much of their effort trying to persuade the public that that Socialists, or at least the Labour left, are all agents of Moscow.

It appears to me that what turned Orwell into an anti-Communist was seeing the Communist party abandon its socialist allies and attack their achievements under Stalin’s orders in the Spanish Civil War. The Trotskyite writer Ernest Mandel discusses this betrayal in his From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (New York: Schocken Books 1978).

The switch to a defence of the bourgeois state and the social status quo in the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries – which implied the defence of private property in the event of severe social crisis and national defence in the event of imperialist war – was made officially by the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. It had been preceded by an initial turn in this direction by the French Communist Party (PCF) when the Stalin-Laval military pact was signed. The clearest reflection of this turn was the Popular Front policy; its most radical effects came with the application of this policy during the Spanish Civil War. In Spain, the Communist Party made itself the most determined, consistent and bloody defender of the reestablishment of the bourgeois order against the collectivisations spontaneously effected by the workers and poor peasants of the Republic and against the organs of power created by the proletariat, particularly the committees and militias, which had inflicted a decisive defeat on the miltaro-fascist insurgents in nearly all the large cities of the country in July 1936. (p. 18).

Others have also pointed out that the nightmare world of 1984 is a depiction of a revolution that has taken the wrong turn, not one that has failed, which is another tactic adopted by Conservative propagandists. Orwell was greatly impressed by the achievements of the Spanish anarchists, and anarchism is highly critical of state socialism and particularly the USSR.

It thus seems to me that what Orwell attacked in Animal Farm and 1984 was not socialism as such, but its usurpation and abuse by bitterly intolerant, repressive groups like the Bolsheviks. It was a view partly based by what he had seen in Spain, and would no doubt have been reinforced by his awareness of the way Stalin had also rounded up, imprisoned and shot socialist dissidents in the USSR. Orwell was probably anti-Communist, not anti-Socialist.

The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/17/uc-gives-disabled-people-just-two-years-to-find-a-job-or-lose-everything/

This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/disabled-mp-accuses-tories-of-eugenics-is-that-why-they-wont-let-him-take-a-seat/

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.

Florence on the Fabians and the Labour Right

August 15, 2016

Florence, one of the great commenters on this blog, posted this comment on the links between the Fabian Society and the Thatcherite entryists on the Labour right.

The Fabian Society is a small group, they say dedicated to networking, I call it as a closed shop for privilege, the white middle class, and the political dynasties. The Fabian Society has also been spotted hovering in the shadows with the Blairites, such as Benn and Kinnock, and especially those who seem to be trying to redefine feminism to their own liking, Jess Philips, Jo Cox, Tessa Jowell, Hariett Harman, to name but a few in Fabian Women’s section. They run a mentoring programme, and in their own words,

“The programme has already delivered some incredible results for its 125 participants and the Fabian Women’s Network. Mentees have been selected or shortlisted as Parliamentary candidates, as candidates for the London and Welsh Assembly with brilliant support from other mentees. Many others were shortlisted. 27 women have been elected into local government positions and a number of women have gone on to become school governors and trustees on the boards of charities. The majority has gained promotion, been nominated for awards and written or spoken in national media.”

Not bad for a society with only 6,000 members in total. A lot of influence for the few. Don’t get me wrong, women’s mentoring to prepare for public life is great, it’s just that an awful lot of the “parachuted” or more correctly imposed New Labour candidates into winnable Labour constituencies proves there is a link between THIS Fabian programme and the actual elected MPs, notably those who are very vocally anti- Corbyn and anti-Socialism. This also shows how far the webs reach between the PLP problems, and the disconnect with the actual membership and in the country. The graduates of the programme seem to know very little about the Labour movement or socialism, it’s aims and more about neo-liberalism as a “good thing”, and of course Corbyn as democracy as a “bad thing”.

https://fabianwomen.org.uk/fabian-women-mps/https://fabianwomen.org.uk/fabian-women-mps/

The source of Fabian Society funding also bears some inspection, where there are a number of corporate donors and sponsors are powerful lobbyists for corporate interests, and not known for their support for socialist ideals- such as Barclays and Lloyds banks, Bellendon PA (political lobbyists) the Portman Group (lobbyists for the drinks trade), Sanofi – a large pharmaceutical, and so on.

http://www.fabians.org.uk/about/how-we-are-funded/http://www.fabians.org.uk/about/how-we-are-funded/

This is depressing. The Fabians have always had a reputation for being ‘milk-and-water’ Socialists, but I used to have far more respect for them than I do today. I was briefly a member of the society back in the 1980s, when I felt I had to do something to stop the rampant privatisation under Maggie Thatcher. My great-grandfather had been a member, and I was impressed with the intellectual work they’d done. This was a time when there was still a variety of opinions in the Society. Indeed, one of the sources I’ve used for my blog posts and pamphlets against the privatisation of the NHS was a Fabian pamphlet by Robin Cook against it. It’s not just from Florence that I’ve heard about the Fabians forming part of the network of Blairite groups. A friend of mine also remarked on it, with the suggestion that if Corbyn wanted to destroy the Blairites, he could do much by simply expelling the Fabians.

It’s a profoundly depressing development for the organisation of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, and, briefly, H.G. Wells. The Webbs did much to promote Socialism in Britain, and their report on the state of British healthcare laid some of the foundations for the development of the NHS decades later. It’s now become a mouthpiece for the corporate shills trying to privatise everything, and break up that greatest of British institutions.

Vox Political: Jeremy Corbyn to Recommend Councils Run Local Services

February 7, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political reported a story on BBC News, that Jeremy Corbyn was about to tell a conference in Nottingham that privatisation did not work, and that local authorities should take over the management of local services. Corbyn said

After a generation of forced privatisation and outsourcing of public services, the evidence has built up that handing services over to private companies routinely delivers poorer quality, higher cost, worse terms and conditions for the workforce, less transparency and less say for the public.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/06/jeremy-corbyn-councils-should-run-local-services/. Go and read it for further information.

This is really going to put the cat among the pigeons. Privatisation was supposed to solve all this, by taking local services out of the hands of bureaucrats and giving them to entrepreneurs, who automatically knew far better than anyone else how they should be run. Local services would be better managed, more efficient, and there would be more ‘choice’. This was one of Thatcher’s favourite terms, it was her automatic buzzword for the supposed benefits of capitalism.

Except that, in many cases, the ‘choice’ was illusory. There were no other companies lining up to take over services. Or if there were, they were targeting the most profitable areas, for obvious reasons. In Bristol First Bus and its fellow subsidiaries have the monopoly of the bus service. There are other providers, but they only operate sporadic services. I think there is more competition over in Bath, but this has produced different problems. I once bought a return from one bus company over there, thinking that it would apply to buses generally, only to be told I couldn’t use it when I got on the bus run by that company’s rival.

What Corbyn is recommending is ‘municipalisation’. There was a lot of talk about it in the mid-1990s, when Bliar scrapped Clause 4. Of course, the talk was a sop to Old Labour about the traditional basis of Socialism – the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Of course, Bliar and the other New Labourites were convinced Neo-Liberals, and so nothing was done about municipalisation. It was quietly discarded.

In fact, municipalisation was a very old idea and much local industry was already owned and operated by local councils in the late 19th century. Both Liberal and Tory councils, for example, took over the ownership of the local gas and water companies. George Bernard Shaw, in his paper, ‘he Transition to Socialism’ made it the basis for the transformation of the country into a Socialist state, reconstituted as a federation of municipalities.

He wrote:

We now foresee our municipality equipped with land and capital for industrial purposes. At first they will naturally extend the industries they already carry on, road making, gas works, tramways, building and the like …

… Eventually the land and industry of the whole town would pass by the spontaneous action of economic forces into the hands of the municipality; and, so far, the problem of socializing industry would be solved…

This then, is the humdrum programme of the practical Social Democrat to-day. There is not one new item in it. All are applications of principles already admitted, and extensions of practices already in full activity. All have on them that stamp of the vestry which is so congenial to the British mind. None of them compels the use of the words Socialism or Revolution: at no point do they involve guillotining, declaring the Rights of Man, or swearing on the altar of the country, or anything else that is supposed to be essentially un-English. And they are sure to come-landmarks on our course already visible to farsighted politicians even of the party which dreads them.

Elsewhere he said that when he heard people shouting that Socialism would not work, he thought of them getting their gas from the municipal gas works, walking along the municipal movements on their way to the municipal pharmacy or clinic. Of course, Thatcher saw all this coming and it made her ‘frit’ in her own words. So she was determined to privatise everything she could, to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state’. Well, the ability of private industry on its own to solve municipal problems has long been disproved. What happened to all the Urban Development Corporations she set up after the 1981 riots? They were supposed to be able to regenerate struggling areas using all the power of private industry, without interference from the politicos. In fact, they were all quietly wound up, one after another. And now its time to look again at municipalisation to turn back the disastrous wave of privatisation under which our nation is sinking.

American Fascist Arguments: Capitalism Threatened by Socialism

February 22, 2015

The American Right attacks any kind of state intervention, however mild and beneficial, as ‘Socialism’, which is automatically conflated with Communism. You can see that very clearly in the way Obama has been attacked by Repugs, and especially the Tea Party, as a Communist, simply for supporting the extension of state medical aid. A number of bloggers and political commentators have pointed out that in many respects, Obama is a fairly standard type of American politico, with the usual connections to Wall Street.

When Libertarians are confronted with the fact that their small-state economics don’t actually the work, there’s a tendency for them to argue that this is because there is still some government intervention, which is Socialism. This line of argument goes all the way back to the 1930s. I found this piece of American Fascist argument attacking American industry for becoming ‘socialist’ in Robert Brady’s The Structure of German Fascism:

America, the world’s greatest industrial nation, industrialized itself under private capitalism for use and for profit. .. America’s suffering started only when capitalism took sick. Like a sick horse, the decrepit economic system on the back of which we are now crawling along is not Capitalism himself, but a Capitalism loaded down with Socialism … What have socialistic experiments ever achieved except deficits or failure? … If capitalists and capitalism are blight to humanity, then Egypt should be a happy spot. But the happiest event which has befallen Egypt in many centuries came with the British ‘imperialism’ and ‘capitalism’ which built the Assuan Dam… If capitalism is ‘greed’ and a blight to humanity, then why are the savage and miserable lands which have no capitalism not blessed? … Why is the standard of living of the whole people in any land raised in proportion to the success and development of its capitalistic enterprises? … As Bernard Shaw put it: ‘compulsory labour with death the final punishment, is the keystone of socialism.’… The National Republic, Dec. 1933, under the heading The Failure of Socialism states: ‘Persons socialistically inclined often point to the present world-wide depression as “a failure of the capitalist system” … but the present world-wide breakdown would more properly be charged to a collapse of the socialist system. Every important power in the western world to-day, except in the United States, is under either socialist parliamentary control, or that dictatorship to which socialism leads as in Italy, Poland, Germany and Russia.

Elizabeth Dilling, The Red Network (Caspar co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1934, pp. 92-3).

George Bernard Shaw is a favourite source of quotations for the Right on the brutal nature of Socialism because Shaw had some disgusting, brutal ideas. He was like H.G. Wells and many other members of the chattering classes at the time an enthusiastic supporter of eugenics. There’s a quote by either him or Wells about sending those of unfit heredity to the extermination chamber. These horrific comments today are, it shouldn’t need to be said, as shocking to Socialist as they are to everyone else, and very, very few if any Socialists today share his views. In fact, the opposite is much more likely to be the case.

As for the introduction of capitalism into the Middle East ultimately benefiting the people there, this is highly debatable. Islamist movements like the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the FLM in Algeria, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are partly ultra-traditionalist protests against capitalism. Iran’s Islamic Revolution broke out due to the massive social and economic dislocation produced by the country’s industrialisation. Similarly the introduction of capitalism and modernisation in Egypt under Mehmet Ali had the effect not creating more freedom for the average Egyptian, but of decreasing it. It massively extended the pasha’s power, and led to a massive tax burden on the mass of the Egyptian peasantry to support Mehmet Ali’s reforms.

One of the contributing factors to the Islamic revolution and the outbreak of the civil war in Algeria was the failure of both socialism and capitalism. The Algerian Nationalists had been able to hold to power for decades, following the country’s liberation from France, by supplying economic growth and a rising standard of living. This failed in the 1980s, and the regime began selling off state industries and cutting back. The result was a decline still further in living standards. The FLM gained popular support by appearing to offer a programme that would restore prosperity through the implementation of Islamic law, which was held to be neither capitalist nor socialist. The Islamic regime in Iran is also very strongly anti-socialist, even if over half of the economy is owned by the state and much of the rest of by the bonyads, the Shi’ah charitable foundations.

In short, the above passage shows just how old and a false the arguments about modern capitalism being corrupted by Socialism are. This hasn’t stopped them being repeated ad nauseam despite the plentiful evidence to the contrary.

Food Banks: Geordie Greig’s Duranty Journalism

April 20, 2014

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One of the most notorious cases of a journalist collaborating with a murderous, tyrannical regime is that of Walter Duranty and the Soviet Stalinist regime of the 1930s. Duranty was a journalist with the New York Times during Stalin’s forced collectivisation of agriculture. This resulted in a famine of truly horrific proportions in which millions died, particularly in the Ukraine. Ukrainians now commemorate it as the Holodomor, an act of genocide against them by the Soviet authorities.

The existence of the famine was denied and very carefully hidden by the Soviet authorities. Foreign observers to the USSR, such as George Bernard Shaw, were shown fake ‘Potemkin’ villages of well-fed, happy and prosperous peasants. All too many were taken in, including Shaw and Duranty. Duranty wrote a series of articles denying the existence of the famine and maintaining the fiction that instead of mass starvation, the USSR was a land of agricultural abundance. He afterwards admitted that the famine had existed, but excused it by saying that ‘they were only Russians’.

American Conservatives have used Duranty’s notorious complicity in hiding the famine and its suffering as proof of the mendacity of the ‘Left-wing media’, and in particular the New York Times. In actual fact, various Left-wing and Liberal commentators in America have noted that the New York largely, and unsurprisingly, has a Right-wing bias.

Now it seems that the Mail on Sunday under its editor, Geordie Greig, has followed Duranty’s example and tried to deny the existence of starvation in this country for purely political reasons. The Mail on Sunday today printed a piece by one of its journos, Ross Slater, demonstrating that it was possible to get food at a food bank without a voucher. All that was necessary, according to Slater, was that the person obtaining the food should give a plausible ‘sob story’. The article then goes on to allege that the rise in food banks is not due to increased poverty and starvation due to the Tories’ austerity programme. No! Following the official Tory line, it claims that people are going there simply because they’re there, offering free food.

Mike over at Vox Political has given a detailed demolition of this claim, which I’ve reblogged here today. It also seems that Greig’s paper has scored an ‘own goal’ according to the Guardian. The article has aroused such indignation that there has been a massive upsurge in donations to the Trussel Trust, amounting to almost £19,000.

As for Slater, there is a petition on Change.org requesting that Slater be sacked. Mike has advised his readers to use their discretion about this, as Slater was only journalist following the orders set for him by his editor. The ultimate responsibility for this disgusting and shameful attack on the only thing that stands between thousands of British citizens and starvation is the editor of the Mail on Sunday, Geordie Greig.

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Geordie Greig, the editor of the Mail on Sunday, who doesn’t want you to believe in mass starvation in Britain.

Greig’s editor-in-chief is Paul Dacre, who, according to Private Eye, has the nickname ‘Mugabe’. This is quite appropriate, as Mugabe has similarly reduced a prosperous people to poverty and starvation while clinging on to power – much like Dacre’s Tory masters.

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Paul Dacre, with appropriate comment on the high standards of British journalism. Image by John Mangan.

Greig and Dacre deserve the strongest possible censure for their lying, poisonous journalism in the service of their corrupt political masters. Thousands are dying of poverty every year due to this government’s austerity programme. You can go to Stilloaks’ blog for the names and cases of only a few. And yet, like Duranty, a man Greig and Dacre would despise because of his Communist beliefs, the two Mail on Sunday editors are quite prepared to the same and deny the existence of such massive suffering.

Fabian Socialist View of Democracy vs Public School Elitism

April 20, 2014

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Peter Archer in his chapter on ‘The Constitution’ in Pimlott’s collection of Fabian Essays, stresses the importance of democracy for Socialism, and gives a few brief descriptions of its opponents, one of which sounds eerily familiar.

For Socialists, it is fundamental that every issue is decided ultimately by the wishes of the majority. For any other method of resolution entails that an elite has allocated to itself the right to pronounce the majority wrong. For the High Tory, convinced that some are born to rule; for the Platonist, proclaiming that distinguishing good from evil is a question of knowledge; for the meritocrat, persuaded that only some are intellectually fit to be entrusted with deciding the course of history, it may appear justified to exclude the many from a share in deciding the fate of all. But an essential part of the commitment to equality is the belief that the right to play a part in guiding the affairs of the community attaches to each member of that community, irrespective of the names and status of their relations, the cost and nature of their education, the size of their fortune or the letters behind their name. Even the elitism of the early Fabians, referred to by Rodney Barker, was subject to the right of the people to call the elite to account. Indeed the Fabian commitment to gradualism arises, as Shaw explained, not from satisfaction with present injustices, but from a recognition that improvement cannot come about more quickly than we succeed in persuading the people that it will really an improvement.

This doctrine continues to come under attack from two directions. First are the high priests of the classical tradition, who are prepared to concede to the masses a right to choose, provided that they choose within the frame work of beliefs established in the public schools of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

He then goes on to discuss the other source of opposition, the doctrinaire refusal of those on the Left to compromise their policies for the sake of winning elections.

But the description of the High Tories, the presumption of the moneyed elite to have the exclusive right to rule, and the limitation of democratic choice to Victorian and Edwardian Public School ideas, just about perfectly describes the attitude of Cameron, Osborne and this current government of public school toffs.

It’s time we took democracy back from them, and voted them out.

Keith Joseph and the Tories Eugenicist Hatred of the Working Class

March 17, 2014

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Keith Joseph: Maggie’s mentor, and the man who thought there were too many poor people with retarded children. And they were breeding.

Yesterday I put up a piece about how the Tories really did have a visceral hatred of the working class, a hatred and desire to preserve the privileges and position of the ruling elite that confirmed Marx’s view that the state was the instrument of class oppression. One of the most venomous expressions of this hatred came from Keith Joseph. Joseph was Thatcher’s mentor in the Tory party, and an enthusiastic supporter of Milton Friedman’s monetarism and the Chilean dictator General Pinochet. Although he guided Thatcher and served in her cabinet, he never actually became prime minister himself because of a speech he made about the poor in 1974.

Joseph’s view was that there were too many of them, who were too poorly educated, breeding too young. Too many of their children were mentally retarded, and they were thus a danger to solid, genetically and morally superior middle class folk. Owen Jones quotes him in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class:

In a speech in October 1974, he expressed some of the attitudes towards ‘the lower orders’ that were once common among middle-class eugenicists. He argued that ‘a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and to bring them up. They are born to mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5 … Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment.’ But the killer line was this: ‘The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened.’ Joseph’s message was clear. The poor were breeding too fast, and the danger was they were going to swamp everyone else. (pp. 45-6).

Keith Joseph’s speech could indeed have come from a 19th century Victorian eugenicist. Eugenics was founded by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. It believed that there was a real danger of the human race degenerating through the unfit outbreeding the healthy. They thus advocated a series of harsh laws to prevent those they considered genetically unfit – the dysgenic – from breeding. The movement crossed ideological boundaries, and some of the most fervent supporters of the ideology were left-wingers, like George Bernard Shaw, who wished to improve society and humanity by making reproduction more rational, and so breed healthier children. Galton himself was a member of the upper classes, and so believed they were genetically superior to everyone else, and was afraid that their superior genetic material would be outbred by the lower orders. Eugenics and Social Darwinism was taken up by many members of these classes, as it seemed to argue against the need for passing any environmental or health and safety legislation to protect the working classes from the harmful effects of industry. If people were falling ill or being killed through exposure to harmful materials, such as lead, arsenic, mercury or phosphorous, or having deformed or mentally retarded children, or killed in industrial accidents, it wasn’t because these materials were unduly hazardous, but because their stock was defective. They weren’t as constitutionally healthy as everyone else, and it was therefore better if they weren’t allowed to breed. By the 1920s 45 American states had passed eugenics legislation designed to stop the congenitally ill from having children. It also led to the compulsory castration of mentally retarded children in American mental hospitals.

The Nazis boasted that they had invented nothing in their adoption of the eugenics programme, and pointed to America and other countries, which had passed similar legislation. Under the Nazis, however, not only did contribute to the vicious racialism of the regime, which saw Jews, Gypsies and Slavs as subhumans, who were to be destroyed, but it also led directly to the planned murder of the mentally retarded by the SS under the control of Hitler’s doctors.

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Ian Duncan Smith: Under him, as many as 38,000 people a year may have died through poverty. Does he share Joseph’s eugenicist hatred of the poor?

Joseph’s opinions are extremely worrying, because of the way they suggest a coherent political view that sees the poor and disabled as a positive threat to be removed. German eugenicists called the congenitally ill and retarded ‘lebensunwertigenleben’ or ‘life unworthy of life’. I’ve blogged about some of the similarities between the Nazi murder of the mentally retarded and the apparent complete disregard for the welfare of the disabled shown by Atos and the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith. Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, Jaypot, Jayne Linney, the Angry Yorkshireman, myself and other blogs, like Diary of Benefit Scrounger and Benefit Tales, have reported the way the DWP and Atos have been concerned to have people thrown off benefit. As a result, tens of thousands are dying in poverty and starvation each year. Some have been so desperate, that they have taken their own lives. This has been reported on the above blogs. Stilloaks has a list on his blog of 45 victims of IDS’ policies, with a brief description of their circumstances when they died. It’s harrowing reading. A number of disabled people, both commenting on these blogs, and in everyday conversation, have said they feel there is a deliberate plot to kill off the disabled. Given Joseph’s 1974 rant about the genetic threat from the working class and their subnormal children, that idea begins to look all too horribly plausible.

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Does this attack on Atos really describe Tory attitudes to the poor and disabled after Keith Joseph’s rant?

I have to say, I don’t think there is a conscious plan to exterminate the working class or the disabled. It strikes me that what there is instead, is an attitude of culpable negligence arising from this attitude of class hatred and hostility to the working class disabled. There is no desire to kill them directly, in the way the Nazis did. However, they are seen as a threatening drain on resources, resources which could be better spent giving tax breaks to genetically sound multi-billionaire Tory donors. Rather than wishing to kill them actively. Rather it’s a case that their lives simply don’t matter. If they die of starvation, or kill themselves in despair or ‘while the balance of their minds’ is upset, it’s simply a case of natural wastage. They were obviously unfit to survive, as members of a feckless, profligate class. It’s simply nature’s way, and ultimately all for the best. And so rather than treat these poor souls with pity or humanity, there is simply a callous indifference to the fate of those, whose existence they regard as a real threat to society, the economy, and healthy human stock.

Patriotism, Idealism and Cynicism in First World War Britain

January 8, 2014

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Photograph of a British Crowd Cheering the Outbreak of the First World War.

I’ve posted three pieces this week and reblogged others from Vox Political, criticising Michael Gove’s comments in the Daily Mail, trying to defend World War One as ‘a noble cause’, and the courage, honour and patriotism of the troops and the tactical expertise and competence of their leaders from misrepresentation by ‘left-wing academics’ and biased TV programmes like Blackadder and films like Oh, What A Lovely War! Far from the British public being alienated and cynical about the War, they actively supported it as a ‘noble Cause’, according to Gove. Mike, the Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice, and myself have already demolished this, complete with quotes from some of the soldiers, like Harry Patch, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, were fought in the War. Now I want to go further, and examine where Gove possibly got the impression that most people supported the War.

Now there was massive enthusiasm amongst the British for the War when it broke out. The photograph above shows a crowd thronging the street cheering it when the news broke. Such crowds gathered in Parliament Square and the Mall, and sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. This enthusiasm was shared by many artists, writers and intellectuals. Malcolm Brown, in his book Tommy Goes to War, recorded one artist as saying, ‘Would they (the Germans) invade us, I wondered. By George! If they should they’d find us a t5ougher nut to crack than they expected. My bosom swelled and I clenched my fist. I wished to something desperate for the cause of England’.

The modernist writer and artists, Wyndham Lewis, wrote ‘You must not miss a war … You cannot afford to miss that experience’. Lewis, it should be said, was an admirer of the Italian Futurists, who praised war and combat, calling it the ‘sole hygiene of the world’ and denouncing anything that smacked of pacificism, liberalism and feminism as ‘passeism’. Lewis founded the Vorticists, a similar movement in Britain, and was later strongly suspected of Fascist sympathies because of his authoritarian political views, expressed in the book, The Art of Being Ruled.

This war fever was also shared by Baden-Powell and the Scouts. The motto ‘Be Prepared’ is an abbreviation of Baden-Powell’s statement urging his movement’s young members to ‘Be prepared to die for your country … so that when the time comes you may charge home with confidence, not caring whether you are to be killed or not!’ Baden-Powell had other, highly unpleasant political views. Among the reasons he founded the scouts was to indoctrinate working-class boys with healthy, British Conservative patriotic values to take them away from Socialism, trade unionism and other subversive ideas. His idea of using a uniformed organisation, patterned on the military to inculcate its members with comradeship, patriotism and social solidarity, and support for militaristic, authoritarian politics was later taken up by the Fascist movements on the Continent. It’s because of this that Baden-Powell has been the subject of criticism in parts of the Left.

Poems celebrating the War, and urging soldiers to join up, were printed in the press, such as Julian Grenfell’s Into Battle, which was published in the Times in 1915. This had the lines

The naked earth is warm with Spring
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s gaze glorying
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is colour and warmth and light,
And a striving ever more for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase….

As the War went on, and lasted far longer than the six months they originally believed it would last, disillusionment and despair set in. A Radio 4 programme on the First World War noted that this started a year or two after the outbreak of the War, when the younger brothers of men already at the front became increasingly aware of the reality of the War from their brothers’ letters and conversation when home on leave, and became very much afraid for their own lives. Among those who expressed this disillusionment was Isaac Rosenberg. In his poem, Dead Man’s Dump, Rosenberg wrote

‘The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman,
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now.’

D.H. Lawrence, in Kangaroo,sharply criticised government propaganda and the patriotic exhortations to fight and die in the popular press: ‘It was in 1915 the old world ended … The integrity of London collapsed and the genuine debasement began, the unspeakable debasement of the press and the public voice, the reign of the bloated ignominy, John Bull‘.

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Siegfried Sassoon

Sassoon shared this cynicism, and his poetry includes sharp criticism of recruiting sergeants, who encourage others to go to their deaths while keeping themselves safe and sound:

‘If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet majors at the base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my putty petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour, ‘Poor young chap,’
I’d say – ‘I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die – in bed.’

In my opinion, this should be printed above any statement made by Bush and the other ‘chickenhawks’, who have destroyed a country and sent thousands of brave men and women to their death or mutilation in Iraq, whenever they give any kind of statement about the invasion and occupation of that country.

Sassoon himself was strongly influence by the 1916 work, Le Feu, written by Henri Barbusse in France, who inveighed against the War and the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen, that had died defending Verdun from bombardment. It was translated into English in 1917, and not only influenced Sassoon but also Owen, who was also inspired to carry on his campaign against the War after meeting the former in a hospital near Edinburgh.

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Wilfred Owen

Owen was only one of a number of servicemen, who wrote about the War and their experience of it in order to prevent a similar conflict ever breaking out again. These works and memoirs include Robert Grave’s Goodbye to All That, Montague’s Disenchantment – surely a title that itself refutes Gove’s statement that the British people were largely supportive of the War, Blunden’s Undertones of War, as well as the more recent accounts by Harry Patch, the last British Tommy, who died only a year or so ago. In 1962 Benjamin Britten incorporated nine of Owen’s poems into his War Requiem.

Many Left-wing intellectuals were opposed to the War from the start. These included the Bloomsbury Grou, including Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell. Russell was fined by the government for ‘statements likely to prejudice the recruiting and discipline of His Majesty’s forces’. George Bernard Shaw also condemned the War and the fervid patriotism that sustained it. In an article in the New Statesman he declared that the best way of ending the war would be if the troops shot their officers and went home.

Now I’ve written that modern scholarship has suggested that there was much less disaffection and cynicism amongst the British public and servicemen than previously considered. There are, however, real problems in assessing just how widespread anti-War sentiments truly were. The problem is that much of the writings about the War from the men, who fought in it has been lost. It may be stored in attics and cellars, long ago thrown away, or lost with the rest of the fortifications and camps in which it was written. The material that has survived, from Sassoon, Rosenberg, Owen, Graves and others, did so because of the social connections of those officers to the middle and upper classes. The accounts of the War belonging to those lower down the social scale has been less fortunate. Nevertheless, it has survived, as the Angry Yorkshireman has pointed out in his piece on Gove’s attempt to revise the War. Another problem, highlighted by Lawrence in the above passage from Kangaroo, is that the government and media at the time were concerned to make sure that work critical of the War had a very limited circulation. This meant that not only was the pro-War sentiment preserved from much criticism, but it’s difficult to tell how many people actually agreed with it because of restrictions on its dissemination. The amount of material surviving, that patriotically supported the War, may actually be out of proportion to the number of people, who actually shared these views, simply because it was actively promoted by government and media while critical works were not.

I have, however, pointed out that even if the numbers of people disillusioned with the War is overestimated, nevertheless, the disillusionment still existed. I also pointed out that the servicemen’s newspaper, The Wipers Times, was very much like the depiction of the War and the black humour in Blackadder Goes Forth. This episode in the War’s history has been recently explored by Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye. It is therefore quite likely that further research will reveal much more material like this to challenge the revisionist accounts so loudly endorse by Gove.

Now Gove stated that children should be allowed to study opposing views. I actually agree with him about this. It is, however, hypocritical coming from Gove, who then goes on to attack the view of the War promoted by ‘Left-wing intellectuals’, which, as the Angry Yorkshireman has also shown, includes such notorious radicals as, er, Ken Clarke and Winston Churchill. Well, perhaps in a few years time, when Cameron has effectively turned this country into a one-party state and made the unemployed either beggars or state-owned slaves. Coming from Gove, these comments do pose a threat, as they strongly suggest that he believes that the state should dictate what views about the past should be taught in schools and universities.

Gove is wrong, often horribly wrong about the First World War, though others should certainly be free to share his views, if they agree with them. The danger is in the use of the power of the state to ensure that only the approved, Conservative version is taught. This must be strenuously resisted, so people can make their own minds up. This is the difference between education and indoctrination.